Fresh Morel Mushroom Stew with Fava Beans and Peas

I can’t say that I initiated the first “foragers” at Chez Panisse in 1973, because they invented themselves: a couple of them came to the back door, at first for cash or trade in dinners. When the word got out that we would look at anything brought in from forest, field, or ocean (even a few times from the plains of Montana), lots more people showed up. Soon we were telling them what we wanted, and commissioning them for special or commercially unavailable ingredients.

The back of the mushroom forager’s hatchback car was the most inspiring, filled with chanterelles, matsutake, boletus (even the toxic Amanita muscaria), and morels.

In the kitchen, the morels were the most trouble since they served as high-rise condos for all sorts of crawling things. I was forced to use cream to finish any dish they were in, so that I could see anything red with lots of feet floating to the surface—my last chance to act before the dish was picked up by the waiters, who were trained to look again before putting the plate down in front of the customer.

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Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh morels
  • 4 ounces finely chopped pancetta or bacon
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped garlic,
  • 1 teaspoon fresh winter savory or fresh thyme leaves chopped
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • ½ cup shelled fresh young peas
  • ½ cup fresh twice-peeled fava beans, split (about 2 pounds of pods)
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Cut ¼ inch off the base of the stem of the morels (which may be full of sand). Slice the morels in half lengthwise and put into a sieve to shake out any critters and all the sand.

Sauté the bacon over a low fire, about 10 minutes, until all the fat is rendered. Take out the bacon and drain, discarding the fat. Wipe out the pan with paper towels, then add the butter. Melt the butter over medium heat, and as soon as it is melted add the savory and garlic. Stir them together and cook over medium heat 1 minute only. Add the morels and a pinch of salt, and toss or mix with the garlic and savory, cooking for another 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, cover, and cook 5 minutes, or until the combined mushroom juices and chicken stock is reduced to about half a cup ( inch in a 10-inch pan).

During these last few minutes of cooking the morels, boil the peas and favas in salted water for 5 minutes. Drain and add to the morels. Turn off the heat under the sauté pan with the morels and favas.

Whisk the cream and egg together and pour into the morels. Add the bacon and heat again gently, constantly tossing or stirring, only until the sauce just begins to thicken. Do not boil. Season and serve immediately.

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